There comes a time in every parent’s life when they must explain where Father Christmas lives. I had brought my six-year-old daughter Claudia to see him in his natural habitat: Rovaniemi in Finland, the official ‘Home of Santa Claus’.Our base was the boutique Arctic Light Hotel. In winter, the sun sets early here. But there are things to do in the long evenings in Rovaniemi. The superb Pilke Science Centre closes at 6pm, and you can always hunt for the Northern Lights.Other than that, hunker down – there are fires and a hotel restaurant, even if ‘reindeer served three ways’ prompted difficult questions from Claudia.
Anna Melville-Jones and her daughter Claudia on their visit to Rovaniemi in Finland to visit Santa Claus After fielding mind-bending queries, you’ll need a Lappish G&T, infused with rosemary and cloudberries – and possibly a lie-down in the hotel sauna.Building up to the big guy, we went snowmobiling next morning – heading down the frozen Kemijoki river and out to a silent forest of dark pines against a dazzling, desolate landscape.
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This is Christmas like you’ve never known. Locals mention with trepidation that winters are getting warmer, but ‘warm’ here still means minus temperatures that make your cheeks ache as you zip along under a sky of pale blues, pinks and oranges.You can snowmobile across the Arctic Circle (or catch the No 8 bus to cross the Circle instead) to swap horsepower for a sled at a reindeer farm. Reindeer have been integral to indigenous Sami culture for centuries, but there’s an art to driving one. Stay on for a Sami shamanic ceremony in a tipi and learn about living in one of the world’s most inhospitable climates.
In winter, the sun sets early. But there are things to do in the long evenings in Rovaniemi, picturedWhen we finally reached the Santa Claus Village, Claudia was pink with anticipation. This is a commercial take on Santa, with elf hats to buy and postcards to send from the post office. For a more intimate experience, there’s the Santa Claus Secret Forest at Joulukka, which offers an elf school and private meetings.At the village, the queue for Santa was long and the visit short, with the inevitable photo-buying finish.‘I don’t think that was him,’ whispered Claudia conspiratorially as a quiet snowfall began, natural enchantment descending from the skies. She caught a flake on her tongue and giggled.Wherever Santa was, it didn’t really matter. Christmas had come early, and the magic was real. GETTING THERE… Regent Holidays (regent-holidays.co.uk) offers a four-day Arctic Light Adventure Break from £1,355 per person. This includes return flights from Gatwick to Rovaniemi, three nights’ B&B at the Arctic Light Hotel, transfers, Northern Lights hunt by snowmobile, Santa Claus Village excursion, reindeer sleigh ride and husky sleigh ride.